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Threats increase: More than half a dozen schools locked down in 3-week span

<i>WLOS</i><br/>Two Yancey County schools were on lockdown for much of the day Monday
Two Yancey County schools were on lockdown for much of the day Monday

By Hannah Mackenzie

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Experts said school threats are increasing across the country. In Western North Carolina, WLOS has reported on eight this year, seven of which have taken place within the last three weeks.

Two Yancey County schools were on lockdown for much of the day Monday, following a call about a person with a gun at Blue Ridge Elementary School. Sheriff’s deputies cleared Blue Ridge Elementary and nearby Cane River Middle School after finding no evidence of a credible threat. According to Yancey County Sheriff Shane Hilliard, deputies remained on campus for the rest of the day.

Monday’s incident in Yancey County was just the latest in a string of school threats across Western North Carolina. On April 7, two Henderson County schools were locked down because of a bomb threat.

“We’ve learned that this event seems to be associated with a disturbing pattern of similar calls across the state,” Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin said.

Since January, WLOS has reported on more than half a dozen school threats.

Jan. 31 – Smokey Mountain High School (Jackson County) April 6 – Tuscola High School (Haywood County) April 6 – East Rutherford High School (Rutherford County) April 7 – North Henderson High School (Henderson County) April 7 – Apple Valley Middle School (Henderson County) April 7 – Brevard High School (Transylvania County) April 11 – Polk County Early College (Polk County) April 25 – Blue Ridge Elementary, Cane River Middle School was also locked down due to proximity (Yancey County)

All but one of the eight school threats happened within a three-week period in April. None of them were credible.

It was a different story in Greenville, South Carolina, last month when a Tanglewood Middle School student shot and killed a classmate on March 31. Sonya Pearson wiped away tears as she was reunited with her 12-year-old son, who attends the school.

“I was scared like any parent would be,” Pearson said. “You send your child to school to get an education, then you get a phone call there’s been a shooting.”

School safety and security expert Ken Trump said the uptick in school violence is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kids have increased social and emotional stressors,” Trump said. “We’re seeing it manifest itself in aggressive behavior, threats, weapons confiscations, weapons use and other types of violence that we just haven’t seen in many, many years.”

According to Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, social media is also a factor. He said its impact is often a double-edged sword.

“It’s a place where rumors spread in seconds and minutes, rather than hours and days,” Trump said. “But, it’s also a place where you can learn about a threat early on enough that if you report it and people can act on it in a timely manner, it could save a life.”

Back in Yancey County, Sheriff Shane Hilliard said authorities are working with the State Bureau of Investigations to track down the origin of Monday’s school threat call as they now believe it to be a hoax.

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